Montevideo school voters to decide

MONTEVIDEO -- For five years the Montevideo school district has been spending down its reserve fund, increasing the fees for extra curricular activities, and yet still cutting away at programs to reduce spending.

MONTEVIDEO -- For five years the Montevideo school district has been spending down its reserve fund, increasing the fees for extra curricular activities, and yet still cutting away at programs to reduce spending.

Teachers have been put on unrequested leaves of absence, and programs from agriculture and industrial arts to community education have seen significant reductions. The last round of cuts saw this year's budget trimmed by $293,613.

The district's reserve fund has shrunk from 20 percent of the budget to only five percent today, "or as low as we can go,'' said Tim Forde, chairman of the Montevideo board of education and a citizen's Vote Yes committee.

Through it all the district has managed to maintain desired teacher-to-student ratios, and protect what superintendent David Baukol calls the district's "core'' academic offerings.

But now it is up to voters to decide if the district can maintain what it has, according to Forde. Voters will decide Nov. 7 whether or not to approve a $375 per pupil operating levy for the district.


Matched at the rate of $1.17 from the state for every $1 raised locally, the levy would provide an estimated $600,000 annually for the district. With projections for a slow but steady decline in enrollment and consequent reductions in state aid in the years ahead, the levy is being sought to keep the district on an even keel, according to Baukol.

"We're not looking at this as a windfall for the district," he said, "but to keep things at the same level.''

The current budget projects a $537,000 deficit. If the referendum is not approved, the district would have to make cuts at least equal to that amount, according to the two men.

Montevideo is joined by a number of area school districts seeking voter support for a levy increase: ACGC, Benson, BOLD, KMS, Minnewaska, RCW and YME all have levy referendums on the ballot this November.

At the heart of the issue is how the state funds education. Forde said the state has not kept up with its original commitment.

The state's enrollment-based formula for funding education hurts rural schools, which are experiencing declines in their student numbers, added Baukol.

Montevideo is seeing a small decline of about 14 students per year. That might not seem like a lot in a district with enrollment over 1,400, but it means revenues are dropping while costs rise. The enrollment declines occur throughout the grade levels, so it puts more pressure on efforts to keep the teacher-to-student ratios that are so important, explained Baukol.

The Montevideo district has enjoyed a history of strong community support, according to Forde. The district's voters approved a $500 per pupil operating levy in 2002. It remains in place through the 2012-13 school year.


The proposed, $375 per pupil levy would remain in place for 10 years. Combined, the two operating levies would total $875 per pupil.

The average value of a home in Montevideo is around $70,000. Homes of that value would see an approximate increase of $70 per year in taxes if the new levy is approved.

Forde expects the vote on the levy to be close, but said he is optimistic. Many people appreciate the quality of education the district provides its children, and want to maintain it, he explained.

People also realize the importance of the school district to the community's economic well-being, he added. A strong school system helps attract residents to the community. It allows local employers to recruit the work force they need.

If the referendum is not approved, the $537,000 deficit guarantees that the next round of cuts would affect virtually all aspects of school offerings: As many as 10 teaching positions could be lost, said Forde.

Course offerings would be reduced and teacher to student ratios would certainly rise. Cuts would have to be made to extra curricular offerings as well.

The district will have no choice but to cut if the referendum is not approved, according to Baukol. School board members do not want to raise fees any further. The fees are already at the point where an increase would significantly harm those who need the programs the most, said Forde.

Board members have also decided that a five percent fund reserve is the absolute minimum. Any additional deficit spending would put the district at financial risk in the years ahead, he said.

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